Home Arts Monumental Cold War mosaic of Karl Marx restored in East Germany

Monumental Cold War mosaic of Karl Marx restored in East Germany

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A large mosaic depicting Karl Marx and celebrating the founding of East Germany and “working class unity” has been officially handed over to the city of Halle by the private foundation that today financed its restoration.

The mural, by Josep Renau, was completed in 1974 on the exterior wall of the stairwell of an 11-story residence hall for apprentices in Halle-Neustadt, a new concrete town built near the city of Halle during the Cold War to house workers near chemical plants. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Halle-Neustadt’s population has fallen to around 45,000, about half of its 1960s peak.

The mosaic is one of the most important public works of art in communist East Germany

Photo: Thomas Wolf © Wüstenrot Stiftung

The fresco, heavily titled The unity of the working classes and the founding of the German Democratic Republic, is 35m high and 7m wide and contains 11,000 tiles. It is considered one of the most important public works of art produced in communist East Germany.

Over the past 30 years, much East German public art has been destroyed, removed during reconstruction projects, or left to decay. It is often dismissed as the remnant of an outdated ideology and deemed unimportant from an art historical perspective. But recent measures to save these works suggest a change in these attitudes.

Mosaic detail

Photo: Thomas Wolf © Wüstenrot Stiftung

“Even the uncomfortable East German cultural heritage should not just disappear, but rather be preserved to encourage reflection and debate,” says Philip Kurz, managing director of the Wüstenrot Foundation, which provided the bulk of the €600,000 grant. restoration funds.

The Wüstenrot Foundation has placed the preservation of East German public art at the center of its heritage protection work. In 2019, the foundation completed the reinstallation of a Renau mosaic made of 70,000 glass fragments in the city of Erfurt.

Born in Valencia in 1907, Renau was the cultural manager responsible for overseeing the famous Spanish pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition, where Picasso Guernica was shown for the first time. Forced to flee Spain after Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War, Renau lived in exile in Mexico. There he met important representatives of Mexican muralism, including David Alfaro Siqueiros. He moved to East Germany in 1958.

The Restoration Process

Photo: Thomas Wolf © Wüstenrot Stiftung

His first mural commission was in Halle-Neustadt. Renau initially proposed an image celebrating the power of nature, but this was rejected by the party, which insisted on a more political theme. The recently restored Marx mosaic was one of two monumental murals by the artist in Halle-Neustadt: the other, The march of young people towards the futurewas installed on a nearby canteen and destroyed from 1998 to 1999.

When restoring Unity of the working classes and founding of the German Democratic Republic started in 2022, many tiles had been damaged or coming off due to frost and pollution. The restoration team, led by the Gustav van Treeck studio in Munich, repaired tiles where possible and replaced 451 that were too damaged to repair.

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